“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” (John Adams, Founding Father)
This historic saying seems to fit well with us after one of the most polarizing elections in American history, where the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had a 52% and 61% disapproval rating, respectively. Some common concerns unify both Republican and Democratic voters under Trump’s presidency: political corruption, health care reform, corporate influence, etc. Which party, then, should voters turn to if they are put off by the dominating parties?
The unappreciated third parties of our system pose an interesting alternative. Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader had called for Congress to retract their numerous career benefits until they become the rights of every American. In his own words (in an article composed for the Huffington Post) “at a minimum, members of Congress receive a $174,000 annual salary, plus a great pension, health and life insurance, assorted deductions and expenses. These are benefits that many Americans can only dream of getting.” Given the tens thousands of deaths caused by corporate crime, he also called for increased crackdown on violations committed by pharmaceutical companies, food industries, utility companies, and others (see his book “The Seventeen Solutions”). 2016 Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson called for the removal of tax loopholes for special interests, as well simplification for the IRS tax code, which currently runs up to 74,608 pages (figure 2).
This is not to deny the flaws of these parties. Greens and Libertarians have strongly criticized each other’s positions on corporate tax evasion, health care, and other issues. Most Americans, however, would agree that their viewpoints are worth presenting, given that some of their stances have bipartisan support (figure 2). Why then, are they not seen alongside the Democratic and Republican nominees in political debates?
The answer lies with the corporate interests that plan out the debate platform. They are run by the Commission of Presidential Debates, whose rules are decided by Democratic and Republican power brokers. The only problem is that these individuals are not interested in opening up political competition, as it could mean a challenge to their corporatist management of politics. Media scholars Robert McChesney and John Nichols note that during the Reagan administration “government returned to the old calculus of doing no more than was absolutely necessary for citizens and absolutely everything that could be done for the wealthy and big business” (Dollarocracy, p. 29). These politicians have now set rules stating that any competitor to the system must have the support of 15% of the American public before being allowed into the debates. Since third parties generally refuse corporate donations, they are unable to afford the high cost of coverage, and are thus unable to meet this requirement. In other words, mainstream politicians have rigged a system where only the wealthiest or most corrupt candidates can afford to be eligible for debate participation. These facts led Nichols and McChesney to state: “Only the most crudely authoritarian states erect the sort of barrier the United States maintains to entry into the debates by so-called minor-party candidates” (ibid. p. 204).
While protests are making significant progress in challenging the Trump administration, we should not lose sight of trying to put into power those who agree with our concerns. This can only be done by challenging the plutocratic system that gives preference to corrupt individuals at the local, state, and national levels. Only by fighting the two-party tyranny can we take control of our country back from wealthy oligarchs. Otherwise our nation will only delay its inevitable fall. As an Islamic tradition states, “the people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich.”